Malcolm Dickinson's interview with The Brief

This interview first appeared in The Brief on 25 April 2018​.

Malcolm, you became managing partner nine years ago so what’s been your highlight?

Ultimately, any leader of a business is judged by the ability to sustain profits and increase turnover over a period of time. During the last 10 years, the firm has grown organically and now has a turnover of nearly £35m. I have been very proud to oversee such period of sustained growth and change within the firm. At the same time, although growth does not come without challenges, we have endeavoured to continue to make Michelmores a place where people enjoy coming to work; happy lawyers make for happy clients!

What prompted you to step down and was it a tough decision?

Having completed a little over three terms as managing partner, and the best part of 30 years with the firm, it felt right to be handing over the baton to new talent. I still feel energized and ambitious and, when the time is right, I hope I will be able to look at other opportunities, perhaps beyond the legal sector. Although the decision was not that tough, the consequences, I think, will be. It will be very hard to stand by on the side lines and watch the firm being managed by a new team – but I am certain this is the right thing to do.

Tim Richards – Head of the Commercial Dispute Resolution team – is taking over your role so how will his leadership style differ from yours?

When I formally took on the role of managing partner in 2008, it was the first time the firm had invested in the role. To a large extent, therefore, I have created the managing partner role at Michelmores to suit me. I hope that Tim goes on to develop the role and adds his own ideas into what makes a great managing partner. I think in a lot of areas we are quite similar – for example, neither of us can be said to have a massive ego (or, indeed, would not wish to put up with partners in that category!). Time will tell how mine and Tim’s management style differ, but I am sure change will be for the better.

Has your decision to step down prompted any other internal moves?

Yes, I think that there will be some changes, and I’m sure that any new managing partner will want to put his own management team in place. I think this is a healthy move and avoids complacency and preservation of the status quo. I know that Tim is keen to ensure that our fantastic cohort of younger partners are now brought through to management of the firm and are given more of a voice in the strategic direction of travel.

Where will your focus be once you step down?

For the next year, I have a number of projects to either complete or review for the firm. Some will be internal projects, and others will be external and are likely to involve our international strategy and how we create our network of overseas contacts, particularly in the light of the opportunities (and challenges!) that Brexit will undoubtedly provide.

I hope to continue my involvement with the Chinese legal market in one form or another. This has been a focus for me in the last five years. I also hope that people will use me as a sounding board, and we do not forget I have ten years of hard earned experience.

How involved will you be in the strategic direction of the firm?

I think the short answer to that is that I will not be directly involved, and it really is now for the new managing partner and his team to review the firm’s strategy and take it to the next stage. As I have said, I will always be on hand to provide a view, if asked, but I do not think that a former managing partner can sit in the wings and direct strategy. This is a recipe for disaster.

What’s been the biggest single driver in your career?

I think always putting the firm first and ensuring that people around you are like-minded has helped enormously in driving its success. In summary, teamwork and a firm ethos has, in my view, been the biggest driver.

The legal services sector has also changed hugely. What are your predictions for the market and for law firms in general?

I think it is a very brave managing partner who predicts the market and the future direction of travel of the sector. But, I have possibly earned the right to make a few ill-judged predictions:-

  • The imperative for law firms to invest in infrastructure, technology, people, training and knowledge will place firms’ profitability models under more and more strain;
  • This will lead to more mergers and more innovative ways of delivering legal services;
  • New entrants will continue to challenge the status quo, and I think we will see more examples of external funding, whether this is through a private equity model or more firms following the listing route;-
  • Finally – a subject close to my heart – I think that Chinese law firms will become more active on the international stage and become a disruptive influence within the next five to 10 years.

Finally, any words of wisdom for the readers of The Brief who have followed your career and seen Michelmores’ continued growth under your stewardship?

I don’t think the business of law is going to get any easier over the next five years. There will be more competition, more disrupters and a greater pressure on margins. Having said this, there will be opportunities for the very best and innovative law firms to thrive, and I hope and expect that Michelmores will be one of these firms.